Babies from about 6 months old can be started on solids and while it is exciting growth stage, foods are common choking hazards. Choking rates are highest for children under one year of age, and babies are vulnerable to choking because they have yet to master feeding.
Babies have few or no teeth, and no molars for chewing harder foods. Their small windpipe makes it more susceptible to blockage and they may not be able to cough hard enough to dislodge the obstruction. Some foods are more common than others to cause choking and here are 12 top choking foods that your baby SHOULD avoid!
#1 Raw and Hard Vegetables
While vegetables are healthy, raw and hard vegetables like carrots are difficult to swallow and potential choking hazards. Salad leaves like lettuce, spinach and cabbage should also not be given raw. Vegetables should be cooked till soft, and start first with serving the vegetables in pureed or mashed form. As your baby gets better at feeding, the texture can be lumpier.
#2 Chunky Fruits
Similarly, fruits should be cooked, pureed or mashed. For instance, as a start, your baby can try homemade apple sauce, followed by pureed apples and smaller soft mashed pieces later. Apples should not be given raw to babies as they are unable to chew the apples properly.
#3 Round, Slippery and Firm Fruits
Fruits like berries, grapes, tomatoes and cherries are choking hazards as they are small, round and slippery. Both cherries and the pits are choking hazards. You can remove the skin, quartered the fruit and if the fruit is too firm, mash it or cut it more finely.
#4 Hot Dogs/ Sausages
Foods with skins are choking hazards as the skin is not easy to chew. Hotdogs and frankfurters also fall under the category of compressible foods, referring to foods that can be compressed and fit into the windpipe.
#5 Candies, Jelly Beans
Apart from lacking in nutritional value, candies are choking hazards as they are hard, slippery and small.
#6 Fibrous Foods
Foods like celery, raw pineapple are fibrous and difficult to chew. Peel off the skin and fibrous part, and cut across the fibers and cook till the food is soft.
#7 Nuts or Seeds
Nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are choking hazards as they are hard, small and difficult to chew and swallow. Raisins and sultanas are also choking hazards.
Avoid commercial white bread products as they can form pasty globs in your baby’s mouth, and aren’t healthy. Similarly, crackers are of low nutritional value and can get pasty when chewed.
#9 Chunky Peanut Butter
Chunky peanut butter is a choking hazard due to the small peanuts and also the sticky texture of the peanut butter. The peanut butter may stick to the sides of throat, narrowing the windpipe and making it more difficult to swallow. If feeding peanut butter, choose smooth peanut butter and spread it thinly.
#10 Sticky Paste
As mentioned above, be careful of peanut butter and also other spreads like chocolate spreads which tend to be sticky. These can stick to the side of the airway and cause restricted airway. To reduce the risk of choking, spread the paste thinly and evenly onto the bread.
#11 Other Foods with Skin
Foods like plums, peaches and nectarines have skins and the skin should be removed first. The skin is difficult to chew and swallow, and for fruits that are high in pesticides, choose the organic version.
#12 Other Compressible Foods
Foods like hotdogs, marshmallows, popcorn when not chewed properly may be compressed in the airway, and become choking hazards. Chewing gum is one such instance, and should never be given to children.
Tips to Prevent Babies and Toddlers from Choking on Food
There are ways to reduce the risks of choking on food, such as ensuring that your baby is ready to start solids and preparing the food correctly.
Baby’s Readiness to Start Solids
Watch out for signs that your baby is ready to start solids, such as the ability to sit up right and chew foods (even with gum). Your baby should be started off on solids slowly, to ensure that he is used to the swallowing motion. Do not rush your baby during eating and always ensure that your baby is seated properly and upright during feeding.
Start first with soft foods, or foods that have been well-cooked, pureed, strained or mashed. Thicker textures and lumpier foods can be considered after the baby has managed well with the soft foods. Soft foods to try out include include porridge, mashed tofu and soft mashed fruits. As the baby progresses, try lumpier textures like cous cous and quinoa, minced meat or flaked fish, yoghurt with soft lumps and mashed beans. From about 9 months, you can try out finger foods, but be sure that your baby is able to chew on his food and is supervised at all times.
The role of supervision during baby feeding should not be left to an older sibling as they may not know what foods are choking hazards. Be sure to tell your older children not to give foods to their younger sibling. Babies should not be feeding while doing something else – being distracted is also a factor that increases the likelihood of choking. Eating in the car is also a choking hazard as it is easy to get distracted.
As seen above, foods that are too hard, small and slippery, compressible or fibrous are choking hazards. Supervision is very important when baby is feeding, and it is worthwhile learning CPR and first aid for choking.